Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Trinity of Sacraments

It has been an odd week. My wife and I have celebrated the beginning of a life, the end of a life, and yesterday the continuity of a marriage, ours.

The beginning of the life was easy. It was the baptism of the first child of my wife’s niece, which would be the grand daughter of my brother-in-law, who, after the christening left for California on the search for 300 species. The christening went well, and from what I hear from my mother-in-law, the California trip is, thus far, a raging success. I am hoping for all 300!

The end of a life was a bit harder of course. My uncle beat the actuarial tables at 83, but one could argue that from a quality of life standpoint he would have been better off checking out about 4 years ago. The funeral was yesterday, which unfortunately was our anniversary. So we opted to visit the funeral home on Thursday night and pass on the funeral…a cold calculation in some fashion. The calculation would go something like this. Discounting weddings and funerals, I could count on one hand how many times I have seen my uncle in my life. Distance, life style, and some ancient hurt feelings (from before I was born) intervened to keep our families somewhat estranged.

The anniversary? In the past we have always gone on a vacation around our anniversary. Getting older we find less tolerance for the heat and the competition with others indulging in the rite of vacation. So we have moved our vacation to the cooler, less crowded autumn at the cost of somewhat shorter days. So we celebrated our anniversary, with a Sacrament, a dinner, a movie at home, and a cake.

So this has been a week of three Sacraments. The cool thing about going to hell is that you no longer have to play by other people's rules. Well actually you still have to pay taxes, you can’t murder, rape and pillage, and you still have to stop at red lights. But because I am going to a Lutheran hell anyhow, I no longer have to worry about Lutheran rules, regulations, and definitions, just those imposed by the United States Government and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The nature of the sin for which I am going to hell, which is not that bad in my opinion, will pretty much send me to hell in any Christian denomination so there was not much point in searching for another brand. The possible exception may be Quakers, they seem to waver a bit on my sin. I have to admit that if I was in the market for an organized religion the Quakers might get the sale. Too old and too set in my ways, and overly churchy people get on my nerves. Faux goody-goodiness gets under my skin. “Are you saved?” To which I always feel two replies well up from my Soul. “Yes, goddamn it”, or “No, quite actually I am going to hell, and you?” The bad thing about churches is that there is always some overly churchy s.o.b. sticking their nose in your business. I actually like churches, the physical structure, especially the old ornate Roman Catholic churches—with all those graven images that my grandmother used to raise hell about. Graven images and pre-marital knocked up-ness were cardinal sins in my grandmother’s book (the term pregnant was reserved for those with a proper marriage license). Sweet, vindictive, woman.

So for me it has been a week of three Sacraments, new life, the passing of life, and the reaffirmation of love. It been too long since I had Lutheran Catechism, I can’t remember what the Lutheran Sacraments are. Baptism certainly, but I am not sure about last rites (I don’t think so), and certainly not sex. Good God no…not sex. Hence the joy in the freedom blessed upon me in going hell. I get to define my own Sacraments.

The first is new life, it parallels Baptism…and Baptism will do, but I don’t believe that the infant I saw needed any sins washed away. She in her infantly innocence has no sin…original or otherwise. She certainly will at some time, being human, but unlike Saint Augustine, I don’t believe that this darling little Soul inherited any original sin through her father’s semen—just DNA. So there is nothing to wash away, and what right do we have to do so anyhow? Really shouldn’t she decide for herself if she needs her sin washed away? So in my mind, due to the fact that there is nothing to wash away, there is no washing. It is a ritual, powerful only in the fact that we give it power, but quite meaningless otherwise. I like Mathew Fox (the previous Catholic—now Anglican priest) believe in Original Blessing not original sin. If you want to shine up that Blessing a bit by dashing some water on an infant’s forehead, have at it. But don’t put horns and a forked tail on the little tyke. There is nothing inherently bad about being human.

Last rites. Now this one is a bit problematic. We opted against the funeral so we were not in a church. We were at the funeral home for about 2 ½ hours. In that period of time, we approached the casket for about 2 ½ minutes. I said something of a prayer for my uncle. Beseeching the Lord to grant everlasting life to this worldly sinner? Hell no. How in the hell can I beseech the Lord in some else’s behalf? And why should I? Maybe they want to go to hell. My uncle was a very religious guy. So I am quite sure that he went (or will go) to Heaven, United Methodist division. In my weirdo home grown, privately bartered faith based on doubt, he never had anything to worry about. Remember Original Blessing? Part of it is a Get of Hell Free card issued to every human Soul. Actually that is a bit of mental ritual. If there is nothing to get out, what the hell do you need the card for?

So you see my uncle was always OK, because he had Original Blessing, the Inner Light, a Divine Soul which does not need to be saved. So he didn’t need any beseeching from some overly churchy (of which I noticed plenty in attendance—the damned goody goodiness dripping off them into a contemptuous pool of slippery ooze waiting to entrap the less than holy like the La Brea Tar Pits) or from a miserable wretch like me. He is fine…always has been fine…always will be fine.

I verified that the thing in the coffin was not my uncle. It had been my uncle, but he is long gone. The thing in the coffin was less my uncle than the photograph beside the coffin. In the photo, you could see the light in my uncle’s eye…that was my uncle, not the gussied up remains of the biological contraption that he once occupied. I don’t feel any dislike for bodies per se, but I am always amazed at just how much the thing in the coffin is not the person you knew and loved. I don’t get that feeling at strangers funerals, you know…the mother of a guy you work with. You never saw her in life, and you sure as hell ain’t seeing her now. You don’t know the “her” that is not there. So it is just the body of stranger, not somebody for which you miss the presence.

So then what is my Sacrament of last rites? Not totally sure myself. Physically I put on the sorrowful face and mumble the “oh you poor old bastard” routine. I even shed a genuine tear. I don’t seem to be able to control tears. But mentally it is quite different. It is more like…”hey you were a good guy. I am sorry that your wife and my mother had some bruised feelings years ago, but you know Ma she had a good bit of your father in her, and well your wife was a bit goody goody. I am genuinely sorry that you worked so damned hard all your life, only to spend the last 4 years in a living hell of Alzheimer’s. Say hi to everyone, tell my mother and father that I miss them. One of the first things to do is find yourself some private wooded glen and get reacquainted with your wife. She has probably learned a thing or two about the glory of love. (Yeah I don’t subscribe to that till death do us part in the marriage jingle. I think there is a lot of squeaky bed springs in heaven—just no weight to make them squeak, so they squeak on their own in pure joy.)

So out of the 2 ½ hours we spent at the funeral home, one sixty-ith of that time was spent in not mourning per se, but blessing a good man who lived a good life. The rest of the time, like the usual visit to a funeral home was devoted to chit chat that starts out with the dearly departed, but usually evolves to totally forgetting about the poor bastard laying in the coffin.

And the final Sacrament of the week? The reaffirmation of the our love for each other. Ahhh the juicy part. Well sorry I am not going to go into the lovely details. Let it suffice to say that we did the standard things that men and women do together in bed. And yes, it was fun, and it was Holy, and thus in my mind a Sacrament.

Sex is a Sacrament? I can see my grandmother spinning in her grave. But, yes I think sex is a Sacrament, a triune Sacrament between woman…man…and God. Points on a Holy Triangle, an Equilateral Triangle. Oh alright, if it suits your purposes put God on top, if you must. (And what the hell while I am being tolerant of your fooling around with my model, go ahead and put what ever genders you need in the two lower points—it is still Holy, even if I don’t understand it).

You should note, I have not said anything about marriage being a Sacrament. It should be, it could be, and often it is…but more often, it is not. In my case it is, and one of the reasons for it being so, is that we routinely practice the Sacrament of sex to help keep it that way. Nor should you take what I am saying as a testament to Tantric sex, which somehow seems to have laid claim to the term Sacred Sex. I think Tantra can be sacred, but not anymore so than orgasmic sex which some practitioners of Tantra look down as being base and animalistic. Once I read the astounding statement that if your partner was not willing to practice Tantra, you should get a new partner. What!!!! Sex is for the maintenance of a loving relationship between human partners and God. God and human relationships do not exist to practice Tantra. The religions of man always throw some BS in the game.

I am not naïve enough to state that all sex is a Sacrament. We know that plenty of it is not. But I will say it should be. It should never be unholy. It should always be practiced with love and with a sense of reverence that what you are doing is a three way pact between you, your partner, and God. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the rest of the world to develop that ideal.

So my wife and I practiced the ancient rite of communion between woman, man, and God. It was wonderful. The thought occurred to me that while we were engaged in a loving embrace of the flesh, that 80 miles away my cousins were laying their father to rest. Is it irreverent to have sex while another is being buried? My grandmother would be tsk tsking, fretting, and probably cursing at the notion if she were alive today. But as I laid in my wife’s arms, I thought to myself, “go on now find that wooded glen, or perhaps in your case an amber field of waving grain, and reaffirm again what you once had here. She has been gone for a long time. Get to know her again.” You see it is that overwhelming doubt that I possess. I really doubt that something a grand as sex is limited to Earth.

We had a nice dinner at her favorite restaurant, then rented a movie and had cake at home. It was a perfect day, and one that I hope to remember for eternity. It has been an odd week. A Trinity of Sacraments, new life, the passing of life, and the affirmation of love. Sometimes I feel the wonder of the Universe and the Holiness that we all possess, but so easily forget. This week has been such a time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Passing of The Old Guard

My uncle died today. A blessing, he has been descending deeper into the depths of despair from Alzheimer’s for about 4 years. My uncle was a farmer. He loved it. Of course the farm could not generate enough income so he worked in a steel mill for 31 years as well as the farming and then retired into full time farming. His obituary said that he farmed for 55 years, but that is not true—he grew up on a farm. I visited him about 7 years ago before he became incapacitated from the Alzheimer’s. His typical day in retirement would have killed me. His life would have killed me.

As a child in the depression he was run over in a field by a binding machine. He was 7 or 8 at the time, and one might ask what in the world was a child doing in the field during binding. He was working. I don’t quite remember the story but he had some task to do ahead of the binder. Somehow he stumbled in front of the horses and they pulled the wheel of the machine across the poor lad. There was no money for doctors or hospitals, and they put the broken child to bed not knowing whether he would mend or die. He mended. Due to his injury he failed a draft physical right at the end of the Second World War. The examining doctor looked at him in amazement and asked what had happened to him.

In the mid 60s he was out in a field with his tractor in January doing something or other. He remembered stopping the tractor, starting to climb off, and nothing else. He woke up some period of time later about 30 feet from the idling tractor. He was stark naked and in terrible pain. His clothes laid scattered around the tractor and his coveralls were still hitched to the power take-off flapping around in a circle. It was cold, and the ground was frozen. He had several fractured ribs, a mild concussion, severe twisted contusions on his arms, legs and torso, and sprained everything. He tried to make his way to the tractor but could not get up. He was about ¾ of a mile from his house, and he crawled back on his hands and knees.

About 4 years ago, he was found out in the same field driving his tractor aimlessly about. He had no idea who he was, where he was going, or how to get home. His tractor days were over. He had been farming for 79 years.

My uncle was in the WWII crowd. Some call them the “greatest generation”. “Greatest” may be some what of a line of hyperbole, but in my mind they were a damn good generation. The past decade has not been kind to that generation, nor to my family. In 2003, my mother and all 5 of her siblings were alive. In 2004 the baby of the family died, 2005 the eldest died. Last year my mother passed away, and now my uncle. I still have an uncle and aunt, both in their 90s. On my father’s side, everyone of that generation is gone and so are half my cousins from his side.

I hate to see them go. I hate to drive through my parents neighborhood and see the inevitable for sale signs on the homes of those that I know are one of the original families that moved in when the plan was built back in 1954. I hate to look at the obituaries and invariably on the men in their 80s and 90s you will see “Veteran of World War II.

I have a great admiration and respect for my parent’s generation. Like I said, greatest may be more generous than what they deserve, but they were good. They spent their childhoods in the crushing economic disaster of the depression and then fought World War II. They ushered in one of the greatest periods of peace time prosperity that we have ever known. Did they do this because they were really great, above average, ultra-patriotic, smart with a buck straight shooters (as my Dad always called the good guys)? Not really. Hey, you’re a raggedy assed kid with an empty belly and no shoes. What the hell do you do? All you can do is your best to survive. Now you are in your late teens or early 20’s, money is tight and jobs are hard to find. You turn on the radio one Sunday morning and “What did they say? Pearl Harbor? Where in the hell is Pearl Harbor?” My mother said that was the most frequently asked question on that Sunday. That generation said a lot of good byes—and far too often a good bye forever. Google Images, before they changed their format, had a section devoted to World War II partings from Time-Life. I could never look at these photos without my eyes tearing up.

They were not born special people. But the world handed them a set of circumstances that made them special people. World War II was not a police action that had little consequences for the public at large, which has been the case for the wars since. That is a terribly unfair statement to the people who have fought these wars (and they are wars, police action is political sanitizing). A fire fight is just as horrible in Vietnam or Iraq as it was in Iwo Jima or the Battle of the Bulge. But the fact remains that the general public has not been engaged with or has feared a war since World War II. This was a generation that knew hunger as children, and war and death as young adults…yes the world made them special.

Lest I sound like a lionizing fool, let me add this. My parent’s generation fought World War II but they did not run it. They did run Vietnam however, and they were, like all people, capable of making terrible mistakes. Perhaps they were better privates than generals.

I am feeling very finite right now. The first photo above was a family reunion from my mother’s side back in 1952. My father took the picture. Every adult in that picture is dead with the exception my uncle (tallest in the back) and his wife, (seated first person on the right), and my aunt (seated 2nd from the right). The gentleman who passed away today is standing (dark shirt, white collars). Your author is the first kid to the far left, sitting in front of my mother. My eyes are a bit too teary now to continue. So I guess I’ll just say “So long Uncle Dick, I hope you are in a good place now.”

Note! Click on the images to see them full size. The lower image can be clicked again for super sized.

Image Credits:

Family Reunion: My Dad

WWII Couple: Time-Life (from the old Google section)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Shepherdess & Lady Agnew

I referred to the William Adolph Bouguereau's painting The Shepherdess in the previous post. It is a hard painting to find. Pondering a bit I remembered where I had found it, Brian Yoder's Good Art Gallery, Bouguereau collection.

Brian Yoder's Good Art

It is a small scan but it is the only rendition of this painting I have ever found on the Internet.

The second painting is John Singer Sargent's famous Lady Agnew. You can read more about it and see an actual photo of Gertrude (Lady Agnew) here:

Lady Agnew

What I like about both of these paintings is the untamed feminine spirit within these women. The Shepherdess and Lady Agnew are on the opposite ends of the economic spectrum and lifestyle yet they share that wonderful look of determination and spirit. I love both of these paintings. Click on either image to see a full sized rendition. Be sure to click on Lady Agnew, then click the larger image for yet a larger. The small images do not do Lady Agnew justice.

Here is an interesting experiment to try. On the full sized Lady Agnew, hold a piece of paper vertically over one side of her face and then the other. The paper should be held exactly in the middle so that you can only see the left side of her hair line, her left eyebrow, her left eye, the left side of her nose, the left side of her mouth and the left side of her chin, and vice versa. A remarkably different woman is revealed on each side of her face. I should like to take credit for that discovery, but I believe I read it in the JSS Gallery site some time ago.

EDIT 4-14-11:  I am beginning to think that I didn't look too hard for a scan of the Shepherdess...I checked Google images today and found several large scans.  Click on this second image of the Shepherdess and then click it again for full size.  She is magnificent!  I must confess I have a crush on her.  I love subtleties in paintings.  Look at her forearms and neck, the coloration would indicate that this girl needs a good scrubbing, as she should, being a shepherdess. Her face, however, is relatively clean, giving her a self respect despite her circumstances.   Look at those eyes, they are infinite.  The sadness of the ages are to be seen in their depths, yet there is a fierce don't mess with me spirit in them.  The delicacy and coloration of her lips are lovely.  Her hair oddly neat yet unkempt at the same time is beautiful and the delicate wisps give her a tenderness that belies the determination of her eyes.  The casual placement of her staff under her left elbow gives her a confidence.  She looks as though she could defend herself quite effectively with that staff...again giving her a fierceness.  She is comfortable in her skin.  The plaid garment appears to be a mark of her family and it gives her pride. Is she Scottish?  The placement of her bare feet (oh yes, the bare feet, like St Teresa has an impact on my Soul) suggest a casual comfort and ownership of her surroundings.  This young shepherdess is the master of  her surroundings as much as Lady Agnew was the mistress of her household.  Respect both!  Between the shepherdess and the rock appears a pasture rose and there is a thistle adjacent to her feet, cattle can be seen in the distance behind her.

Looking at her, I imagine myself to be a poor young farm boy, sneaking away from my work in the fields to be with her, to flirt with her, and perhaps steal a kiss.  Yet is is not simply a romance.  I look into the depths of her eyes and she exudes the wisdom of the ages coupled with a fresh innocence.  That dichotomy of wisdom and innocence along with her fierceness touches my Soul.  A masterpiece!       

Image Credits:

The Shepherdess, Brian Yoder's Art Gallery & Critics Corner (link above)

Lady Agnew, JSS Virtual Gallery (link above)

The second scan of The Shepherdess:

My World, William-Adolphe Bougueau:Famous paintings of William-Adolphe Bougueau

Google Doodle Masthead And A Love For Paintings

Google had one of their special scripts on their masthead today, and as I usually do, I tried to guess the subject. Something to do with a painter no doubt. The scantily clad female lower case g in the masthead caught my eye. While the style seemed familiar, I could not place it to a distinct artist. No surprise there, while I love paintings, I know very little about them. So I rolled up on the masthead, 150th birthday of Alphonse Mucha. Hmmm, I have never heard of him. I went to Wikipedia article and quickly perused his life…Czech painter, got his break painting a Sarah Bernhardt theater poster in Paris, started a movement first known as the Mucha Style which then evolved into Art Nouveau, designed postage stamps and money for the new government of Czechoslovakia, and did his masterpieces the Slav Epic. He caught pneumonia while incarcerated by the Gestapo in 1939 and died pulmonary failure at the age of 79. Rack another one up for the Nazis.

That lovely second g on the masthead was still on my mind so I went to Google images and searched Alphonse Mucha. Displayed was a huge collection of lovely women adorned in loose fitting robes with fussy backgrounds as hinted by the first o in the masthead. They looked like magazine covers from the turn of the century (19th to the 20th). Not exactly my tastes. The women are beautiful but very similar from one to the next, and all that natty background stuff does not appeal to me. But I persisted in my search. Surely this guy did some paintings without all that brouhaha. My patience was generously rewarded.

I fell in love with the Portrait of Jaroslava, Mucha’s daughter. (If you click on her image above, you will get a larger rendition.) I appreciated the lack of fussy scrolls, archways, flowery banners, and all that smutch (perhaps better called Smucha) that Mucha employed in his usual Art Nouveau. This painting is superb in its simplicity. The young woman is quite beautiful. Her face is unadorned with make-up, her hair is long and simple—no fancy curls, her dress is very plain yet suggests an elegance. There are certain aspects of this painting that caught my eye. The look on her face. What is the emotion? I am not sure I can read it, but it is very striking. She exudes intelligence and wisdom. Her facial expression reminds me of Sargent’s Lady Agnew and Bouguereau’s Shepherdess—two of my favorite paintings. These women possess a fierce feminine spirit which is somewhat beyond our normal understanding. Jaroslava seems to have experienced much in her life. I feel she has suffered some misfortune and knows the pain of life. Her expression is knowing with a slight weariness of the world. She is much more than the pampered daughter of a successful painter.

There are a couple of faults in this painting that gives it charm. Her right eye, seems much darker and full of expression than her left eye. Her left hand holding the pendant seems too large and almost manly.

I love how her hair lies on the back of her neck and peeks out from the side of both arms. The simplicity of the top of her dress falling across the base of her throat, the long pendant, and the bracelets on her left wrist give this painting a charm that I would rate as a masterpiece.

Image Credits

Google Masthead...well Google of course.

Jaroslava, Olgas Gallery

Olgas Gallery

The next painting I must confess with being totally besotted. I must give a parental warning on the following discussion. Shall we say PG-13. I consider the painting wonderfully sensual depicting young love. Some might say that it is erotic, although erotic conveys something harder than what I feel for this painting. If you are uncomfortable with such things, please read no further., mica1244art, Spring Night

What strikes me about this painting is the innocence and tenderness of young lovers on the path to the discovery of the other, and through the other discovery of the self. The young man has partially removed the top wrap of the young woman's toga exposing her. She is leaning back against him very relaxed but also with a shyness. There is a dichotomy of body language in this painting that speaks much of the attraction of men and women to each other. She is shy and modest, but relaxed. The tension created in this painting between the relaxed albeit shy body language of the young woman and intense musculature of the young man is incredible. He is inflamed with passion for her and every muscle in his upper body is taunt with excitement. Physically he is powerful, yet in spite of her professed modesty she is in control of this situation. He is a bundle of nerves, you can almost see him tremble with desire for her. However, regardless of his powerful arms and upper body, his every move will only occur with her blessing

Compare the soft curved features of the woman to the taunt tension in the young man. Note the power in his left hand as it clenches her garment, and the fingers on his right clasped to her shoulder. Her eyes, just barely visible, are shy and perhaps convey the slightest hint of reluctance. From the angle of the young man’s head, he is staring into her eyes desperately trying to cipher their meaning. Has his passion gone too far? I think not. She is relaxed leaning back against him. Her delicate hands and arms are drawn up across her chest in a gesture of modesty, yet she does nothing to conceal her breast. Modesty must be preserved of course, but she is allowing each step to unfold with a certainty that contradicts the look in her eyes.

What I love about this painting is that, to me, it depicts love not lust. Perhaps I am cutting hairs, and such distinctions do not exist, but I hope that is not true. It has not been my experience, but I will admit—I may be a romantic fool. Paintings like this are relatively rare. This was not a common theme from the Victorian past, and it is not the emotion purveyed in works of the prurient present. Most modern paintings seem to approach this with the grace of a one night stand. Impossibly buxom women with waist diameters that could not support the viscera required of life stare into your eyes while being titillated in some fashion by some equally impossibly muscular male. Suitable for adult comic books. The problem with a painting where one or both partners look you in the eye is that they are not engaged in some loving act with their partner. Quite actually they are performing for the viewer, and that is pornography.

EDIT October 30, 2010. I included the image of Spring Night in the text. Originally I left it out for two reasons, a desire not to offend anyone and uncertainty to use of the licensing of the image. Regarding the desire not to offend anyone, well I still have that desire. But if one is offended by the innocent sensuality of this image, then please do not access this blog. Regarding the licensing, I believe that I have provided the proper attribution and that I am not violating the license by posting this photo. Thanks to mica12244art for providing this beautiful scan.

Image Credit:, mica12244art, Spring Night, Alphonse Mucho

Some Rights Reserved by Mica12244art

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TheTimes--Perhaps They Should Be A-Changin'

This morning I replied to a post in The Old Baguette’s Blog:

Old Baguette, Times, They Aren't A-Changin

It was kind of a long reply but I had got into the tale. Well I got an error message that my reply exceeded 4096 characters. So I start whittling away paragraphs and tried it again. Still too many characters. This went on for about 5 iterations and it was getting to the point that my comment was being hacked into meaninglessness. I tried one more time. “Sorry we can not execute your request at this time.” I paged back, my entire comment was gone. So once again I shall try to comment on the Old Baguette’s post. I am putting it on my blog so that I don’t have to hack it down, and I am writing it in Word off line so that if they can’t execute my request—at least they won’t execute my post.

In her post the Old Baguette tells us about a remarkable priest who has riled many authorities and continues to do so today. I wanted to relay a story about another priest, quite possibly remarkable as well, that I ran into at a wedding.

First a disclaimer. I am not Catholic, and as such, I do not share the sensibilities and beliefs of Catholicism. I am nothing. NO RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE it stated on my dog tags. “Privately bartered agreement” quite actually, a phrase I wish was original but I must admit I stole from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Committed”. I belong to no church or religion, yet I believe in something. I am reluctant to call it God because that over simplifies the belief and severely limits what it is that I believe in. Shall we leave it that God is beyond definition?

I was brought up Lutheran, and was a communicant member of the American Lutheran Church. Unfortunately if the Lutherans are correct, I am condemned to a Lutheran Hell for a sin for which I have never sought redemption. Of course, one must realize that if the Lutherans are correct, my dear Catholic friends, we shall be spending eternity together in less than fortuitous circumstances. I suppose I should be frightened, but actually I found my condemnation to be quite liberating. I am going to Hell anyhow, so why not find God on my own terms. That is a simplification, but it will stand for now. Having said all that, I must also confess that I am Irish or mostly Irish. If you are Irish, there is a very good chance that your ancestors were Catholic. So having it in my DNA perhaps, I do have a sympathy for Catholicism.

About 21 years ago, a Catholic friend of my wife got married, naturally in a Catholic church. The priest was rather young, late 20s I suppose, very intelligent, rather witty, athletic, handsome, and quite virile looking. He was something of a hunk. He conducted the service with aplomb and dignity and gave the best homily (is that correct?) that I have ever heard on the demands, obligations, and pleasures of marriage. I wished I had a written transcript, I would post it. Simply put I was quite impressed with the service and this very young hunk of a priest. (Take not my comments to be of an attractive nature. I am old enough and heterosexual enough that I can say a young man was quite a dish with out feeling any qualms about my manhood.)

After the service everyone was gathered around doing all these post wedding ceremony sort of things and chit chatting. I didn’t know too many people at this wedding other than the bride, so I was standing off by myself while my wife performed some sort of post nuptial duties, gathering of flowers and the likes. I was fascinated with this priest, so I took up the fine art of priest watching—not having anything else to do.

So there he was in the middle of a throng, getting his picture taken, meeting Aunt Matilda, blessing babies, and shaking a lot of hands. This guy was a master at dealing with people and I genuinely believe that he was rather enjoying himself. This affair was on the more mature side than the average wedding, the bride was in her early 30s and the groom was pushing 40. As such the crowd was basically married couples, the women highly animated, all quite beautiful, and loving this wonderful wedding atmosphere, (rife with female wedding pheromones) and the men, stiff and uncomfortable, anxious to get the hell out of there, and off to the reception and the booze.

There were a couple of single bride’s maids—lookers both, under normal circumstances, and just beautifully radiant in their sleeveless bride’s maid dresses with no backs. Hmmmm. Ah hmmmm indeed. I caught the priest checking them out. Subtle but none the less, he gave them the eye. Well our theological boy toy was the recipient of a few glances from the ladies as well including our single girls. It is amazing what you can see by watching.

The wedding party departed for photos, and things just sort of petered out, and our priest was standing by himself. With no priestly tasks to keep him occupied, he began looking about checking out the people still milling around, mostly couples in the early to mid 30s. His smile faded slowly and as he continued to stand alone, he seemed to become engulfed in sadness. I watched him closely and he descended into a lone despondency. My wife returned and said to me, “Oh he looks so lonely:” I felt my heart rip in half for the truth of her observation. My wife was then off to some other task, and I again was alone with the priest and my thoughts.

I finally went over to him. As I approached the melancholy instantly evaporated and he smiled and extended his hand. I shook his hand but found my self speechless for the huge lump in my throat. I mumbled something to the effect of “nice service” and immediately fled making something of an ass of myself. From a safe distance, I took up my clergy vision again. The sadness soon returned and as I watched, I felt a very deep and profound sorrow for this very nice young man.

Although I am condemned to a Lutheran Hell, if I try to find my place on the goodness scale of humanity, I would have to give myself an average score, perhaps slightly better. If goodness was measured on a bell curve like IQ, I would place myself at 101. This is certainly nothing to brag about and there is lots of room for improvement, but that is where I am. I will say this, any goodness I possess is a direct result of being married to my wife. She has made a far better human being out of me than I would be on my own.

I have a rather profound belief that men really need women. I would also like to believe that women really need men, but at times I am not so sure. I would be lost without my wife. Why is it that I am afforded the presence of a beautiful and wonderful loving woman, but my friend the priest is not? Would the loving gentle touch of a woman somehow make him less of a priest? Would he lose his powers of Transubstantiation? Would coming home to a kind and loving woman after officiating the last rites to a young mother somehow reduce his stature before God? I detected longing in my friend the priest, a deep longing that was exactly 180 degrees off course from his calling. Why does God demand this of his servants? How is the denial of the love of a woman to this priest serving God?

I believe that recent events within the Catholic Church has not elevated the concept of celibacy. I don’t understand how denying this most basic, beautiful, and necessary human relationship, indeed in my opinion a gift from God, is serving anyone—least of all God.

I read not too long ago that the real reason for celibacy within the Church had nothing to do with spiritual purity. The Church did not want the progeny of its priests and bishops laying inheritance claims on Church land holdings during the middle ages. I would think in this day and age that the legal system within most if not all countries in which the Church has a presence would protect against such claims. I understand that the Church is having severe difficulties filling the required openings for priests. Two immediate solutions come to mind. Do away with celibacy, and ordain women. I suppose not being Catholic, I have no business sticking my nose into the internal affairs of the Church. But I am a child of God, and what I saw that day was a brother in pain. My commentary is, of course, not limited to priests. Monks and nuns should have the same God ordained right to a loving human relationship. The long term survival of the Church may depend on it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spicebush Swallowtail

I saw this guy in my flowers when I came home from work. Got his picture.

Wikipedia Article:

Wikipedia, Spicebush Swallowtail

Whispering In The Rain

Here is one of my favorite quotes, bear with me it is a bit long, yet I think you will find worth the effort.

“That evening, as I watched the sunset’s pinwheels of apricot and mauve slowly explode into red ribbons, I thought: The sensory misers will inherit the earth, but first they will make it not worth living on. When you consider something like death, after which (there being no news flash to the contrary) we may well go out like a candle flame, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, care for one another too deeply, are excessively curious about nature, are too open to experience, enjoy a nonstop expense of the senses in an effort to know life intimately and lovingly. It probably doesn’t matter if, while trying to be modest and eager watchers of life’s many spectacles, we sometimes look clumsy or get dirty or ask stupid questions or reveal our ignorance or say the wrong thing or light up with wonder like the children we all are. It probably doesn’t matter if a passerby sees us dipping a finger into the moist pouches of dozens of lady’s slippers to find out what bugs tend to fall into them, and thinks us a bit eccentric. Or a neighbor, fetching her mail, sees us standing in the cold with our own letters in one hand and a seismically red autumn leaf in the other its color hitting our sense like a blow from a stun gun, as we stand with a huge grin, too paralyzed by the intricately veined gaudiness of the leaf to move.”
From, A Natural History of The Senses, Diane Ackerman pg 256

The night before last, we had a rather nice light rain all evening, with several periods of a heavy downpour. Around midnight I was preparing to go to bed when the rain started coming down at a rather moderate pace but less than a downpour. I could not resist. I went out on the porch and sat in the dark and listened to the rush of the rainfall soothe my Soul. I stayed out until a little after 1 A.M. and regretfully came back into the house and went to bed. I gave up an hour of sleep to sit in the dark and listen to rain. Does that make me eccentric?

I hope so. I am beyond caring what the neighbors think—if anyone noticed me. I could have easily just went to bed and dropped off into an immediate deep sleep. That would have been the smart thing to do when one has to get up at 6 AM. Yet had I done so, I would have missed a very deep connection with the world. I would like to think it a spiritual connection. I love rain and when I hear it, it is as though God is whispering to me “Everything will be OK.”

I don’t believe that at death “we may well go out like a candle flame.” I do have hope to the contrary. I don’t have much faith and absolutely no evidence, but I do have a lot of doubt. I genuinely doubt that there is no God or that we are completely mortal…a candle flame for a brief blink in time. That seems absurd to me. It is my doubt that has instilled a belief in God, not any faith instilled by religion, my doubts that all this could be for naught, that we are meaningless beings of chance that merely evolved out of the ooze. I have no problem with evolution being the method, but a lot of doubt that it was the reason.

Human existence is frightfully lonely. We are as condemned as any death row inmate, lacking only the curse, or luxury, of a fixed date. So when you consider something like death, the absolute finiteness of it, is it really all that terribly eccentric to listen to God speaking to me through the falling rain in the middle of the night?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Finiteness Of My Vacation

Crap! Tomorrow is back to work. I had a week off. Nine lovely days of not setting the alarm. When I left work on July 2nd, the time off seemed infinite--like a kid on the last day of school in June. By the end of the day on July 5th a shudder of reality had hit me--my vacation is finite, only 4 days left, plus the weekend.

Today I heard the wheezing of a cicada up in my walnut tree--a bit early. How appropriate, as a kid I hated that sound. September is coming! To this day, I still hate the sight of goldenrod (thinking of those stupid ruled tablets that created so much anguish) and the ads in the Sunday paper featuring an apple and a junky little black board with a chalked alphabet and always one letter written backwards...screaming BACK TO SCHOOL.

And so it is today, tomorrow is back to work. How damned, so damned finite! Indeed, how finite is this life through which I am forced to navigate.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Snowberry Clearwing.  Click to see full size.
Yesterday I had an appointment to get my car inspected and aligned at the dealership. My appointment was for 9 AM. At 7 AM, I realized that I forgot to take the wheel locks off my car and re-install the standard wheel nuts. A wheel lock is nothing more than a standard wheel nut that is round instead of a hexagon. On the outer face of the nut is an impression of a fancy design. The key for the wheel lock, doesn't look like a key per se, but it acts as one. It is a round cylinder of metal and on one face it has a raised copy of the fancy design on the lock. The back face is a 19 mm hexagon. So you fit the key into the wheel lock and then use your wheel wrench on the back side of the key.

When ever I get the car serviced, I like to remove the wheel locks because I fear that garage may use an air operated impact gun on them. So yesterday at 7:15 I go out to the car to remove the wheel locks. I open the glove compartment where I keep the key and low and behold no key! I look all around the car, but can't find it. I look in my various tools boxes. Still can't find it! I look places that I would not ordinarily place it. Still no key. I search and search as the clock marches onward to 9 AM.

Then I stop and think, remember back in April, when I changed the rear brake pads, I distinctly remember seeing the key on the tightened lock after re-installing the wheel. The key had remained on the wheel lock rather than pulling off with the socket on the torque wrench. I also distinctly remember saying to myself, "make sure you get that off there." The disheartening realization slowly seeped into my being, that was the last time I remember seeing the key. Then a couple of other realizations come to mind. For the past few months, CD covers, Red Box DVDs, and my Kindle have slipped right into the glove compartment with no problem. No jostling of the contents to get these items to fit. I had actually noticed this but did not make any connections. So now I am feverishly looking in my driveway and the section of street in front of my home. No key. How could there be, it was months ago.

Then in the stupid way that my brain will make a Pollyanna suggestion, grabbing at straws that do not exist, "well just get the spare key." Yeah that's it, you simpleton, get the spare key. The one that you thought about three years ago when you bought the damned locks, but thought "oh I'll get to that later." Well later came at 8 AM yesterday morning. I sheepishly called the dealership and canceled the appointment.

Now my mind is in a tizzy! What if I get flat tire? What did I do with the registration papers for the locks? What am I going to do if I can't find those papers? What if the company went out of business?

I start looking for the registration papers for the locks. Well what do you know, I did at least put them in with the rest of the car documents. I start reading the papers, it is rather disheartening. Register immediately, failure to register will result in delay, blaw blaw. Well what can I lose? I call the 800 number. Thank God, no problem, I can register the locks now and purchase the replacement key. I decide to get two of them and BTW way can you overnight them? Sure, no problem. So in a few hours, hopefully I will be able to remove my wheels. The cost $13 and some cents for the key, and $22 for the overnight charges. A bargain!

I talked to my brother-in-law again. Ahhhh, now he is waffling on the 300 species. "Well I don't know. I am going with 3 other people. I won't get to spend the time or go where I want, etc etc". Ok so what is the revised number? Well 200, or 150 if things really go bad! So I am laying mental bets. I give him 250. Why, well there are several types of kelp that he intends to identify. Well several types of kelp is a far cry from 250 species. But who the hell else would even think of kelp?

I was in southern California for 2 1/2 years while in the service. OK, I was at an age where I didn't give a damn about species except fully biped females (sans feathers). But I did see kelp, sea anemones, sequoia trees, Joshua trees, a ton of scorpions, black widow spiders, chaparral and a couple of rattle snakes. I ran into a flower called California Lupine. I also saw whales migrating off the coast of San Diego. But for most part I couldn't identify these things, I just saw them. Species that I could actually identify after 2 1/2 years. Probably 5, perhaps 10 if I really thought about it.

My brother-in-law is a birder. There is an element in birding that would sell their mothers or first born into slavery to get another 5 birds on their life lists. It is a numbers game. I saw the same thing among Geocachers (hunting for hidden Tupperware containers of trinkets with a GPS) . I would read some of the cache logs of people with thousands of finds. "Found it, TFTC", (thanks for the cache). They could log between 10 and 20 caches in one day. My wife and I got 5 on a really extraordinary day. But my writeups might be 3 paragraphs long and contain 3 to 6 pictures of wildflowers or some beautiful scene along the way. So I wondered, who had the better time, somebody mindlessly rushing from cache to cache collecting numbers, or my wife and I pokeying along collecting memories?

But back to my brother-in-law. He is a birder, but also a treer, a mushroomer, a dragonflyer, a grassers (yes he can ID numerous species of wild grasses), a butterflyer, beetler, moth-er, pond lifer, tracker, mosser and lichener, ferner, algaer, and clouder. Apparently he is about to be a kelper. He can look at a woods, a meadow, or pond and tell you the general condition of it. What is out of balance with it, what species are too dominant and generally how mankind has influenced this habitat and got it out of balance. I think of these things and I change my bet to 275.

But in some sliver of remote envy, his trip has influenced me. I identified my wildflower, the garden phlox. But also I got a fair picture of a hummingbird moth on my hanging petunias. I then could identify it as a snowberry clearwing. If I could figure out how to post the photo, I would. So a week of being on vacation, in porchville, I can add two new species of living things to my life lists, although I don't keep a life list, perhaps I should. If I did keep a life list, number one on it would be the Andromeda Galaxy. I "discovered" it about 22 years ago with a pair of binoculars. I wasn't looking for it...I had heard of it but didn't know you could see it with binoculars. Just ran across it while scanning the night sky with my binoculars. What a phenomenal discovery! I wonder how many species did I look at in that dull yellow smudge?

EDIT: I figured out how to post a photo. Ain't my moth cool!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A New Blog

Two things happened to inspire me to start this blog. First, a dear old friend (whom I have known for exactly two months) started one, and second, my brother-in-law is going on a nature field trip to California for three weeks.

Well if my friend can start a blog so can I. I am not sure what I am going to say here or why I am even doing this, but here it is. A warning in advance, dear reader, it is written for me not you. So why not just keep a journal on my computer like I used to? Why air my fetid thoughts in a public medium? Maybe there is some vain hope that some one will read it and find something moving, although I doubt that. My old journal? I don't even read it.

So how does my brother-in-law's trip influence this? Why would I start a blog because he is going to California to look at some birds and wildflowers? We were chatting about his trip and he said that he was going to see such and such here and this other thing there and so forth. We were talking quite a while about different places in California and what he expected to see at each place. Finally I asked him, considering everything that you may see, how many new species of living things do you think you will encounter? He replied 300, and he is not joking or exaggerating. 300 new species (for him) in three weeks. In my entire repertoire of living things, I could probably reliably identify 100 species, of everything, for the entire world.

300 new species! I have a wild flower growing out in my back yard, in the steep part that I have grown too decrepit to maintain. I decided, OK, if he can get 300 new species in 3 weeks, at least I can ID the wildflower in my back yard. It took 15 minutes to find the field guide, and another 15 minutes to find the flower. Garden phlox, an escapee. Quite beautiful, quite fragrant, and quite common.